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Stunned: Community leaders gathered at a church on the city’s West Side on November 18, 2009, to memorialize their native son and question the official ruling by authorities that Scott committed suicide.
On a rainy day in april, Michael Jr. and Monique agree to meet me at Nookies in Lincoln Park, a diner half a block from the clothing and jewelry boutique that Monique owns. Michael Jr. looks eerily like his father, sans mustache—same eyes, same light skin tone, same boyish, slightly pudgy face, same big smile. Monique is all her mother, she says, darker, with intense eyes, and bedecked in the jewelry she makes herself.
Both say they are trying to move on with their lives. But the vexing questions about their dad’s death don’t allow closure. They have tried to understand. They have brooded over their father’s last hours, days, and weeks to see if they somehow missed any warning signs. They have read books on suicide. They have gone to the scene of his death to see it with their own eyes. But they’re still dumbfounded and can’t quite accept that he’s gone. When they speak of their father, they sometimes, perhaps unconsciously, use the present tense.
Maybe part of the reason they can’t move on is because the family remains caught in the financial quagmire that Scott left behind—a tangled web of debts: outstanding mortgage payments, unpaid credit card balances, and delinquent business loans. Probate records reveal that various lenders are seeking to collect more than $1.5 million from his estate, mostly for losses from the struggling fast-food franchise he co-owned. State records also show that one bank has foreclosed on at least one of the properties he owned, including the West Side townhouse where his sister-in-law from his first marriage lives. Other records indicate Scott owed thousands more in state taxes. “We were left with zero,” says Monique. “Zero! Nothing!”
Of all the nagging questions that remain unanswered, the siblings and others close to Scott are fixated on one in particular: Why would he choose to die in that strange, desolate, and seemingly random place? “I just can’t see him going down there,” says Monique. “He didn’t like the water. It’s dirty, with, like, rats and broken glass. I just can’t see him. For someone who liked to dress sharp, whose car was always clean—I just can’t get past it. You’re going to walk down to that murky, dirty water? Why didn’t he just go to his office? It’s closer [to Beryl’s nursing home]. Why not just do it in the car?”
Michael Jr. nods in agreement. Monique continues: “The Metra man walked in front of a train—at least that makes some sense,” she says, referring to Phil Pagano, the former executive director of Metra who was under criminal investigation when he stepped in front of a Metra commuter train near Crystal Lake last May.
Michael Jr. and Monique—as well as other family members who were interviewed but did not want to be quoted by name—have heard most, if not all, of the rumors and speculation about Michael Scott’s death. People still come up to them to share what they think happened, the siblings say. “I hear stuff all the time,” says Michael Jr. “Everybody’s got a theory.” Monique tells me about a woman who once came into her store and said she had been friends with her father and speculated that his death was somehow connected to the FBI sting operation involving Isaac Carothers, the West Side alderman who pleaded guilty last February to federal charges of bribery and tax evasion. (Starting in early 2008, Carothers wore a wire for the FBI for more than a year. Many political insiders think that the fallout from Carothers’s cooperation with the feds is still to come, and that Scott, a fellow West Sider with long ties to the former alderman, was somehow implicated.)
Michael Jr. has tried to tune out the noise. “I don’t listen to it,” he says. He doubts that his father committed suicide: “Let me say this, there are reasons to mistrust, and there are some discrepancies.” But, he adds, no one has been able to come up with a reasonable alternative theory to explain what happened. “Until somebody can prove something to me—either way— I’d like to remember my father the way the people on the West Side remember him: for all the things he did for the community, all the things he did for the city.”
Monique, on the other hand, is sure about what happened: “I know my father begged for his life—begged,” she says, tears welling in her eyes. “He wanted to live.”